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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Why ‘Kerala model’ of failed Covid handling should learn from UP

The need of the hour is effective and visionary leadership, which chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is unable to provide.

Written by Anoop Antony Joseph |
Updated: August 18, 2021 9:54:57 pm
Kerala, Covid-19Kerala had imposed a complete lockdown starting May 9, when the second wave started ravaging the state. (File photo)

If rhetoric can conquer a pandemic, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan would have shown the way for everyone. But unfortunately, the deadly coronavirus cannot understand the valiant declarations made by the chief minister or read the stories in The New York Times glorifying the “Kerala model” and continues to wreak havoc in the state. The administration looks more clueless than ever in controlling the spread of the virus. Vijayan, who should be at the helm of affairs, seems to be stuck in election campaign mode, where the focus was and is on building Brand Pinarayi.

It is frightening that the positivity rate is on a continuous rise, touching nearly 16 per cent, when the national rate has dipped below 3 per cent; Maharashtra has a rate that is nearly 3 per cent. Kerala, with less than 2.7 per cent of the nation’s population, has been for many weeks now reporting about 50 per cent of the country’s total daily tally. With the test positivity rate in seven districts on the rise, there are fears that the state may have hit the third wave without overcoming the second wave. The death cases are nearing 20,000 with not less than 100 cases reported every day for two months.

The one-month period of the second wave, from the third week of April to mid-May 2021, was when the number of cases peaked for every state. Kerala’s daily case tally also peaked during this period, but was way higher than larger states including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and others. Sadly, Kerala was not only unable to flatten the curve, which almost all other states could accomplish, but also the case graph seems to be on a plateau since June 2021.

It is worth noting that Kerala had imposed a complete lockdown starting May 9, when the second wave started ravaging the state. During the same time period, a state like Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of over 24 crore, and was affected by the second wave had also declared a complete lockdown. Two months since that step, Uttar Pradesh was able to effectively contain the spread of the virus and has brought down the positivity rate to 0.02 per cent. The state has completely opened up its economy and life is more or less back to normal. Yet Kerala stands out as a unique case. Perhaps, the chief minister who saw the second wave in other states had a false sense of belief that he had everything under control. So, ignoring the advice he got from all quarters, he decided to open up the economy on alternate days. If this imprudence wasn’t enough, Pinarayi Vijayan outdid his own witlessness when he decided to do away with restrictions on Eid-Al-Adha as part of his appeasement politics.

The Supreme Court said the decision showed the “sorry state of affairs” in Kerala. Ignoring the highest court’s directions, the chief minister went ahead with the decision, resulting in a steep rise especially in districts like Malappuram. Instead of playing with the lives of people for political gains, it would have boded well if he had emulated the gesture of Uttarakhand and UP in cancelling the Kanwar Yatra.

Experts have repeatedly pointed out that the unscientific relaxations and superficial lockdown on weekends have contributed both to the number of cases as well as resulted in financial distress.

Despite the statistics making the failure of the state government loud and clear, Vijayan continues to believe in his PR machinery that was on an overdrive hailing the ‘Kerala model.’ Shailaja Teacher, the then health minister was projected as the face of effective handling of the pandemic. The focus remained on optics and even the implementing officers decided to follow the chief minister’s example. Failed police machinery is a striking aspect of the actual Kerala model. A case was charged against an 18-year-old girl for queuing outside a bank while the long queues outside the beverage outlets was encouraged by the state machinery.

At a time when it should act in a swift manner, the administration is seen gloating over the latest serosurvey report, which has stated that Kerala has had the lowest exposure to Covid-19. Many experts have pointed out that this is a false sense of triumph, as it has surveyed only 70 districts across India with a small sample size and have left out districts like Malappuram and Kozhikode.

The Kerala government is trying to establish that the huge number is due to daily testing of nearly two lakh people. States like Telangana, Assam, with the same population of Kerala, is testing one lakh people per day yielding a test positivity rate of 1 per cent and less. Kerala may be testing double but the rate is at 16 per cent. Health experts have been criticising Kerala’s wrong policies of testing even when the number of cases are high. Kerala should be willing to learn from other models like the successful test-trace-treat model of Uttar Pradesh.

The state machinery must immediately admit mistakes, change strategies and spring to action. The need of the hour is effective and visionary leadership, which unfortunately chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is unable to provide. Yes, there is a Kerala model, but of utter failure in fighting Covid.

The writer is a BJP leader.

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